Tag Archives: surf history

Capt. Dan: part 2, Rum Running, Diphtheria, and Childhood Games

This is when he teamed up with Frank Costello and company. He worked for Costello hauling whiskey up from the Caribbean, St Lawrence, and Nova Scotia areas. He told me Navy and Coast Guard Cutters would board the big rumrunner sailing vessels out beyond the 12-mile limit and their skippers would have a drink with him. Of course, they couldn’t arrest him out there. Since radar was not in use at that time, it was easy to evade patrols. Eventually, the rumrunners were stopped from getting into major harbors due to more patrol vessels, so they shifted strategy to having fast boats come out and rendezvous with a “mother ship,” pick up a load then hightail it to small inlets along the Atlantic Coast. When the government caught on to this, they began using small boats to cover the inlets. The rumrunners countered with a new tactic. The small high-speed boats would come out, pick up a load of whiskey, hightail back to a deserted beach area, and dump the whiskey just beyond the surf line. The waves would wash it onto the beach, where crews of beachcombers, clam diggers and local fishermen, would wade into the surf and recover the booze. Then it would be loaded on sand sleds pulled by a tractor to the bay side of the offshore island, reloaded onto a barge, towed to an isolated area on the mainland, and then trucked up to warehouses in Philadelphia and New York. My father got a dollar for each case that got ashore.
One time, before they resorted to inlet and beach landing operations, the Coast Guard caught him in the Race off New London. He had a large 5-masted lumber schooner at the time with lumber on deck, but the holds filled with whiskey they had picked up at Halifax. They became becalmed for two days in the Race, and since they had no power, kept going back and forth with the tides. Finally, a Coast Guard Cutter came out, boarded the vessel, “FRANCIS P. RITCHIE,” and found the whiskey. Costello’s lawyer finally got my father released from jail in Boston. In the meantime, there was a big story about the capture in the New York papers, which proved very embarrassing for my Uncle Pete Cuggy. Seems my father got Pete to sign papers showing he was the owner of the vessel. Poor old Pete, who was only an innocent worker for the Railway Express, was arrested; but again, Costello’s people got him cleared of any wrongdoing. He was sore at my father for a good time after that but eventually got over it.
When WW11 came along, the Coast Guard Admiral in New York contacted my father to see if he would take a commission and advise them on where to set up foot patrols along the coast, as they were worried about German saboteurs landing from U-Boats. The Admiral knew my father from his rum running days, and how foxy he had been escaping all the time after the Francis P. Ritchie incident; and the Admiral was aware that my father knew the coast very well. Unfortunately, Washington would not go along with the idea, due to the fact he had a felony conviction in his record from rum running. Even so, he told the Admiral where to set some of the patrols, which proved of value later on.
Naturally, during his rum running days, he was gone for a few months at a time. One stormy night he came home when we lived on 56th Street. He had his Southwester rain gear on and a big beard plus a valise full of big bills. On such occasions, he and my mother would go off for a few days with her mother minding us kids. In 1929, when we lived on 4th Street in Elmhurst, he took my mother out to some place in Montauk Point for a weekend. He told her to drive back by herself with our big Chrysler Sedan. Unbeknownst to her it was loaded down with whiskey. The seats, doors, and underneath the chassis had hollow places where the bottles with the straw around them were concealed. When he returned to our place he had a man come and move the bottles into a phony delivery truck and taken to his speakeasy, the Press Club. My mother found out about this ruse later on and was very mad.
After Pete Gallagher died in 1925, Mrs. Gallagher sold the Manhattan Sand &; Gravel Co. to Generalissimo Pope, who changed the name to Colonial Sand & Gravel. When my father was a truck driver, he had taught Pope to drive. Over the years, Pope got into publishing Italian newspapers, etc. No doubt, he stole a good bit of sand and gravel from Gallagher when he was a truck driver by dumping part of a delivery at some hidden place where he would resell it with his own truck. I knew his son Gene later, during the early fifties. Gene ran an Italian wire service, which was the prime source of all news coming from Italy. Gene later started the Enquirer newspaper.
We moved from 45th Street to 57th Street in 1925 to a five-room coldwater flat, between 1st and 2nd Aves. It was on the top, fifth floor, and was walk-up. It ran from backyard to street side. I started public school, which was only a block away on 50th between 2nd and 5th Aves. This is where I met my oldest friends, Vinnie and Dick Guido who are still around as of 1990 and whom I see on my trips back east. We had a dumbwaiter in the building that I use to have someone pull me up and down in. People used it for getting packages up to their floor or down. After St Agnes, public school was a breeze, still lots of homework though. Only thing I can remember there was being punished for dipping the blond curls of a girl in front of me in my inkwell.
In 1926 we moved to our fanciest place yet on 5oth. Street between A Avenue and Sutton PI. It had steam heat, carpeted hallways and stairs, hot water, bathroom, and a gas stove. My father was riding high with the money he was making. I played with the Guido brothers and another Italian kid, Leno. I had many a good Italian meal with them. Vinnie’s father knew my father when they fought as prizefighters. He was a middleweight while my father fought heavy weight. His father drove a horse-drawn milk wagon for Borden’s, climbing up and down tenement stairs to leave fresh milk and pick up empties. Later, in the morning, he would come around weekly to collect from customers. We still used iceboxes with icemen bringing a 50 lb or so block of ice up to your flat and putting it in the icebox. The Guido’s took me to Bayville a few times in the summer. Vinnie’s mother Rose, who was Irish, was a great Italian cook, guess she learned from Vinnie’s grandma. She also made the best sandwiches. His father, on his days off, would drive out to Montauk to go deep-sea fishing; which he did almost until the time he died in the early eighties.
We had some bad luck in the 56th Street flat. On Christmas Eve, 1926 my sister Catherine died of diphtheria. Her tonsils were too swollen for the doctor to treat her throat by painting it with silver nitrate, which was the method then in use. I came down the same day with it. Margaret and Tommy also had it but the Doctor was able to treat them. That same day the Lionel train my folks gave me shorted out, as the engine was made for AC current, while our flat was on DC current. We were in quarantine for about two months. Relatives and friends use to leave groceries, etc. at our door, which had a big quarantine sign on it, which was the law in those days. My poor mother had to stay in with us and take care of us. My father happened to be away when we started coming down with the bug, so when he returned he stayed with my Aunt Mary Cuggy.
We all went to St John’s church on the corner of 55th Street and 1st Avenue. I made a booboo there one Easter Sunday. I had my new Easter suit on and tried to climb over a picket fence to get out of going to Sunday school. In doing so, I ripped my “Plus-4 knickers” on a picket, caught hell from my mother. The old saying, “God will punish you when you are bad,” was fulfilled that day. I was shot in the eye with a hairpin; we kids were playing in my home hiding behind furniture. We were using rubber bands to shoot hairpins at each other. I looked up over the top of a chair at the wrong time, and was hit. My mother rushed me to hospital in a taxi with the hairpin sticking out of my eyeball. The doctor pulled it out, treated the eye, and made me wear a patch for six months.
Another time, my gang stole a few bottles of beer from the Peter Doelger Brewery a few blocks away. I had opened my bottle by knocking the cap off on a picket fence. One of the other kids couldn’t get his cap off so I took it and trying to knock it off, the bottle exploded due to it being warm and all the shaking. When the bottle broke, I severely cut my thumb. I ran home holding the thumb together. Again, my mother had to take me in a cab to the doctor who stitched it up. I was lucky I was not blinded from the hairpin and no lockjaw from the thumb severing.
I use to hide costume jewelry in a cigar box and climb up a stone wall at the foot of 58th St by the East River and hide the box, coming back every so often to see if it was still there. It was up a good 50′ on the wall and tricky to climb. We use to climb around the new fancy apartment houses going up on Sutton Place, and we would play chicken by going hand-over-hand hanging onto a steel beam a good 10 story above the ground. Oh yes, after the diphtheria siege, my mother put us kids in the hospital and had our tonsils removed, so that never again would she lose one of us like happened to Catherine
We use to make wagons from baby carriage wheels; using two-by-fours and a wooden box with clothesline attached to the front 2×4 with small wheels. The big wheels were in the back. We would push our wagons over to Central Park and play cowboys and Indians. The games we would play were touch football, box ball, stoop ball (you throw a rubber ball at the steps of a stoop, the ball had to get past the curb on a fly. Fielders tried to catch it; if they did, it was an out. If they didn’t it was a hit. If you got it over the last kid near the opposite curb, it was a homer, much like OTL. We also played baseball checkers, laid out 10″ squares in each corner of a sidewalk section. You started from home by shooting your checker for first base. It had to land in the 10″ first base square without touching any of the lines. If you did, you then tried to shoot it into the second base square. If you missed at anytime, the next player shot. He had choice of shooting for the next base he was heading for, or if he could hit your checker, he got another shot. When you made all the bases it was a run at which point you shot at any opponent’s checker. If you hit it, you won it. You would then try to get another one. If you missed, the next player could shoot at yours. If he had all ready been around all the bases at the time, and he shot and hit yours, he got it. We also played marbles, using “steelies,” which we rolled down along a gutter. If you hit someone’s marble, you won it. We played handball, pitched pennies (closest to wall won) roller skate hockey, chase games like one called “Ring-A-Levio.” (It must have been Italian origin). The players were split up into two sides. One side was given a good start and would hide, other side would hunt all up and down the block behind cars, trashcans, etc. When someone was caught, he was brought back and placed in a square that was the holding tank. If one of his teammates could sneak back without being caught and reach the holding tank, all “prisoners” were free to escape.
We played “Seven-up” for United Cigar Coupons, which were redeemable for merchandise. We went to movies on 55th and 3rd Avenue and to RKO Proctor, the one at 58th Street and 3rd Avenue. The latter had some vaudeville with the movie and a sing along organist. Kids up the block would make war on the kids down the block in the backyards. We would start by climbing over the fences separating the tenements. The other gang would lie in wait for us by hiding behind one of the fences. When we reached their hiding place, they would rap our hands with boards as we tried to climb the fence. We boosted each other and managed to get over somehow screaming like Indians. The other side would break and retreat. As they did so, we chased them whacking them on their butts as they climbed over a fence.

To be continued….

Autobiography of an American Surfer: Capt. Dan

This is the first installment of a series of segments from the autobiography of Capt. Dan. He was one of large group of senior surfers that called Tourmaline their home break. Each morning any number of these gentlemen (and women), many of them surfing since the 1930’s, would gather and socialize and often surf. They were and are a treasure recognized by anyone with the time to listen and the humility to understand what a valuable thing their experience is.

It is my understanding that Capt. Dan put this story down at the urging of Ron St.John, and for that, we should all be grateful. Ron has agreed to allow me to pass this story along. I’ll try to keep the segments manageable and put them up over the course of the next couple of months.

This is not necessarily a surf story, but is a story of a surfer. It is a glimpse into American history from Tammany meetings in Central Park, through prohibition and World War II into the present. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

My father and mother were married in 1914 at St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NY. I was the first child, born May 25, 1915 in a coldwater flat at the NW corner of 55th Street and Third Avenue. My sister Margaret was born there June l8, l9l6. Later in life, I remember my parents telling me that I almost had my fanny carved by a celebrant from either the christening reception in our flat, or from a wedding reception in the next flat. They had me on the table with a ham, roast beef, etc.
My father had odd jobs and boxed in car barns for money. One job was as a dynamiter working on Park Avenue when they were excavating to put the New York Central tracks underground, where they are today.
We moved to 335 E. 45th Street about 19l8. My sister Catherine was born there in 1919 and my brother Tom in 1920. Tommy’s birth is my earliest memory, a midwife was employed, and I could hear my mother yelling. I am sure we all came into this world at that time by way of midwives. My father went to work with the Manhattan Sand & Gravel Co. as a truck driver. The company garage was at 49th Street and the East River, and owned by the Peter C. Gallagher family.

I started school at St Agnes on 44th Street between 3rd and Lexington Avenues. The nuns gave us lots of homework and had very strict rules. You carried all your schoolbooks home every day – no lockers. Besides, you needed all of them to do your homework. There were four flats to a floor in our coldwater tenement. One toilet assigned for each two flats. We all washed in the kitchen, as there were no bathrooms. The kids got a bath every Saturday night in a galvanized tin bathtub or the soapstone washtub. I can recall having to put my head in my mother’s lap while she fine-combed my hair to make sure I had no lice. She polished the black iron coal stove on Saturday night after finishing baking and cooking. She used a scrub board and soapstone washtub to do laundry then hung it on a clothesline running from the rear window to a tall clothesline pole in the back yard.

I remember chasing horse drawn fire engines, and Uncle Pete Cuggy driving an electric-driven Railway Express truck, down Second Avenue. The dairies used horse drawn wagons, as did ice wagons, etc. We use to sleigh ride on 4lst Street between 1st and 2nd Aves. Milk was 5 cents a quart; you brought your own milk can to the grocery and ladled milk out from a large can in the store. Bread, for a pound loaf, was 7cents. There were no supermarkets then. You went to grocery, vegetable, bakery, dairy, meat, pork, coffee etc, stores for those requirements. I recall our grocer had a ledger where you could charge your purchase. He entered each item you had ordered and the cost. Most families paid him on payday, or if your father was out of work, he carried you for a time.

Modern apartment houses, occupied by United Nations employees, replaced the tenements on 45th Street after WW11, as the UN was located between 42nd and 46th Street along 1st Avenue and down to the East River. This whole area had been slaughterhouses when I lived there; we even had a brewery right behind the clothes pole in the backyard. I use to climb up the pole and watch the bottling and conveyor belt operations. A kid in my tenement tried to leap from the pole to the roof of the brewery, which was about 4 feet away. He missed and fell on a fence bellow and was killed. The brewery was one owned by Jacob Rupert who built Yankee Stadium and owned the Yankees. Movies were 10 cents at the theatre on the corner of 42nd and 3rd.

I got my head stuck in my parents’ brass bed and had to have the firefighters get me free with lots of soap. I thought sure I would end up with jug ears. I had a good fight with the Muldoon kid. We both had black eyes and bloody noses, guess you could call it a draw. The grown-ups were whooping it up for both of us. I would walk up to my Aunt Mary (Cuggy) on Sundays and mooch a cold cut sandwich and sweet bun. Uncle Pete would also give me a quarter, which was a lot back then.

On May Day, all the Irish went to Central Park for the Tammany Hall picnic. We kids got bats and balls, lots to eat and games to play there. I remember going on a few bus tours out to a lake in New Jersey and taking the excursion boat to Asbury Park, NJ, and one to Bear Mountain State Park on the Hudson. My paternal grandmother, a Kenny by birth, died in 1922. I remember visiting her a few times before that. We all had to kiss her on the forehead in the casket. The day of the funeral was cold and rainy. We rode out in horse drawn carriages and she in a horse-drawn hearse. It was a solemn occasion. She was buried next to my grandfather, Daniel, in Calvary. That same year I made my First Holy Communion at St Agnes.

In 1925, I had a hernia operation in hospital on 42nd St between 1st and 2nd Aves. I believe we started going to Port Washington in the summers starting that year. My father had become skipper of Gallager’s yacht, the AMURAY, named after his son Murray and daughter Alice. We lived in a WW 1 Army tent, divided into three rooms, with wood sidings that came up about 5 feet, above the wood were screens and canvas. We had to fetch water, cooked with a kerosene stove, and had an icebox. The outhouse was about 200′ away from the tent. Other help of the Gallagher’s on the estate had either a house, or tent like ours. The estate ran from the Port Washington Yacht Club to the Manhasset YC, and from the bay back to the main road. In later years, the estate was converted to an exclusive tract with nice homes. The original Gallagher main house was still there by the water next to the Manhasset YC in the early 1990’s. I use to lug a 5-gallon can of kerosene from the village, until I got smart and used a canoe or rowboat to cut across the curve of the bay. I think that is why my arms seemed longer in later life. One morning a cow was hung up in our tent ropes and was about to pull the tent apart. My mother got a broom and whacked the cow free, but not until all the pots and pans, etc. were knocked down inside. I remember going to Port Washington in Gallagher’s Pierce Arrow or the sport touring Maxwell sedan. From the water, the land rose to what seemed like a good hill up near the main road. One day the kids were all up there hiking when we started throwing stones at a hornet’s nest. They came after us and we all tumbled down the hill screaming our brains out. We averaged at least six stings apiece and were miserable for quite awhile.

The Gallagher’s had their dock and float in front of the main house. He belonged to the Knickerbocker YC, just beyond the Manhasset. One could say that Republicans belonged to the Manhasset and Democrats to the Knickerbocker. My father taught all of us to swim by tossing us in deep water. Two incidents come to mind in my Port Washington days. One time I caused my brother Tommy to break his leg. He was about four at the time. I had him on the end of a large boat haul out-cart that had two 8-foot wheels in the middle with a long boom or cradle on which a boat would rest. The rig was perfectly balanced so that one could tip it up or down at each end. I put Tommy on one end and then I climbed out to the other end. As I was letting Tom’s end go back down he lost his balance slightly and his leg got under the boom, so that when it hit the ground it broke his leg. I got a good whacking for that. While Tommy’s leg was in a cast, I had to push him around in a carriage. One day, I started running with the carriage, hit a bump, and out fell Tommy. Fortunately, his leg did not break again. Tommy’s howling brought my mother to investigate and another trip to the woodshed for me. It seems like I could not stay out of trouble. I had been warned not to take my youngest sister Catherine or Tommy out in the canoe. My sister Margaret talked me into taking Catherine, who had an infected arm with a big bandage on it, out in the canoe. We also had a friend of Catherine’s, who had blond hair like Tommy, with us. Tommy was not in the canoe. You guessed it. It tipped over! Well, fortunately, there were sailors diving off ships near where we had capsized. I was struggling to keep Catherine’s arm out of the water and the girls were yelling. The sailors finally got us to the beach. My mother had heard the commotion, came to the dock, saw the kid with the blond hair, and thinking it was Tommy, dove in to save him. Well, guess what it was, back to the woodshed for me! Actually, it was my sister Margaret rocking the canoe that caused it to tip.
The Gallagher sons, Peter and Murray, would take me for rides in an old model T Ford chassis. We sat on the gas tank and hung on for dear life, as they raced around the sand hill part of the estate. They also would take me for rides in their pony cart, as did Jack Nobel who was sweet on the Gallagher’s daughter Anne. They were all about 8 to 10 years older than I was. My father used to have to go up and get the Gallagher boys from the police as they would be arrested for reckless driving, or as on one occasion, they rode their horses through the village shooting at store windows with a BB gun. I am sure old man Gallagher paid plenty of hush money to keep his sons from getting booked.

One time, when the Gallagher’s were leaving on the yacht, I wanted to go with them. The sons said it would be ok, but my father, who was skipper, said no. I can remember standing on the dock crying my eyes out. They were on their way to cruise the St. Lawrence River area. They usually cruised those waters and the Maine area in the summers. My father would take the yacht south in the fall to Palm Beach where the Gallaghers had another estate. He would bring it back to Port Washington in the spring. One time he took all of us plus relatives for a cruise around Manhattan Island. We were picked up on the dock at 49th Street and the East River where they kept their trucks. I learned much about boats from those days; I rowed, paddled, shined brass, and scrubbed paintwork.

Pete Reilly was the engineer on the AMURAY. There was also a Japanese cook, by name of Willie. I used to pick berries and he would make a pie for me. One time he jumped in and saved my brother Tom, who had fallen off the float. The Gallagher sons would slip sandwiches, etc. to me through a hedge behind where their family had outdoor lunch on the patio. There was a large carriage house on the estate, a hosteller living above it. I loved the smell of harnesses, etc. It was clean as a whistle there.

Old man Gallagher had become an alcoholic. He would think nothing of having someone call from some place in Connecticut for “Jim,” my father to come and pick him up with the yacht. Actually, old Pete loved my father; I think more than he did his wild sons. My father told me in later years that Pete told him he would get the yacht when he died. One morning in 1925, my father found old Pete dead in his stateroom on the AMURAY. Many times he would go down and sleep in the yacht when he was drunk, as his wife could not stand him when he was in that condition. Since nothing was in the will saying my father would get the yacht, of course he did not. Mrs. Gallagher knew that her husband on many occasions had stated that fact. My father was bitter. He “borrowed” the yacht, went up to Nova Scotia, picked up a load of whiskey, brought it back to NY area then quietly returned the AMURAY to Manhasset Bay. From then on, he was in the rum running business.

To be continued.